This week, the New York Times decided to publish an anonymously written assault on the president of the United States by an appointee to the White House. The op-ed has since created a great deal of speculation around the identity of the writer and raised questions about the use of anonymous sources and off-the-record information.
I’ve had experience with similarly explosive remarks from an unnamed source. During an exchange with a member of parliament on the state of Canada’s affairs, I recorded our conversation, which is not terribly unusual. Recording helps if, later, I choose to quote that person — MP or not — on air. I pressed record and made that clear. There was no objection.
Then rolled out a torrent of innuendo and accusation ranging from personal attacks to performing the duties of prime minister at such volume I remember looking about for familiar faces among those near enough to hear at least some of what was being offered.
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I asked more than once, “Do you really want to be saying this? And to me? You’re not in Parliament. You’re in a public place and your speech is not protected.”
There was no stopping the tirade.
Not until I suggested the member of parliament join me on air. During the broadcast, I would play back my recording of his charges against the sitting prime minister and we would engage callers.
I would also contact the PMO for comment and most certainly turn over the recording to corporate management for feedback and, quite probably, legal vetting. This was high-voltage material.
“You want me to speak on your show about what I’ve just shared with you? I can’t do that. This was in confidence and off the record.”
It wasn’t and it wasn’t. There had been no request for confidentiality. I wouldn’t have stayed and listened for more than a minute or two had “off the record” been mentioned.
I had a decision to make right there and right then. I stopped the recording, popped out the tape and handed it to the member of parliament.
Was it the correct decision? I still think it was. Not everyone would agree.
Certainly, my choices weren’t exactly the same as those facing the editorial page editors of the New York Times.
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Had I played the recording on air, the identity of the MP would have instantly been revealed. Not so for the identity of the POTUS accuser who approached the Times.
The fundamentals, though, were and are the same.
If, as a media outlet, you are willing to go public with a delivered-to-you attack on the leader of your nation from someone within government while shielding the identity of that person, you are engaging in and contributing to nothing more than the delivery of an unverified hit piece.
Roy Green is the host of the Roy Green Show on the Global News Radio network.